HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – It has been 16 weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Thousands fled to Connecticut in the aftermath. Based on how bad the island still is, some lawmakers are calling for more aid for the hurricane refugees. A few are not happy about having to ask for it.
“Yes, we are angry. We are angry,” said State Representative Angel Arce, (D) Hartford at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building.
That anger is, in part, at the slow pace of disaster relief in Puerto Rico. State Representative Minnie Gonzalez, (D) Hartford, recently went to Puerto Rico and asked people what they needed.
“One of them, the family said, ‘We need a mattress,'” Gonzalez said. “The other one said, ‘We need a toilet. The house is destroyed and we got nothing.'”
Just before Christmas, we showed you several Puerto Rican families living in a Red Roof Inn in Hartford. FEMA was paying for their rooms, but they were told that funding was going to run out this coming Sunday. Archie Santiago Rivera was among them.
“I was one of the folks that FEMA said my case had been denied, had been closed, and my stay at the hotel would come up short,” Rivera said through a translator.
Lobbying by local officials got FEMA to extended that money through February, but that is one small victory. Much of the help is coming from local charities, the city of Hartford and its schools.
“The need is here and Hartford is at the ready,” said Hartford Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez. “We will not turn anyone away and we have a moral and statutory responsibility to address the needs.”
The superintendent said, however, that the additional 400 students from Puerto Rico will cost the district an extra million dollars this year alone. The city is looking for help from the state, and these state leaders are calling for a task force of social services to work on ways to help Puerto Ricans in Connecticut before it’s too late.
“Those services will soon go away, and we are in a position, I believe, as a state, and even as leaders, to provide additional services, but we have to start those conversations now,” said State Rep. Brandon McGee, (D) Hartford.
That is because with the pace of rebuilding in Puerto Rico, there is little chance any of the folks who came to Connecticut will be going back any time soon.